The one where we had a gorgeous Easter in the Lake District Part 2

At the start of the week, I posted about our first week away in the Lake District over Easter and promised the second part would follow. Here it is!

Although we enjoyed our first week, our second was extra special. But we always knew it would be because we were spending it in our absolute favourite place: Keswick. Keswick has everything – a beautiful lake which you can walk right round, dramatic mountains and fells surrounding it on all sides, a couple of beautiful parks, stunning countryside, and a pretty market town full of lovely shops.

The cottage we were staying in was called Pippin Cottage and it was on the main road into Keswick so there was some traffic noise but that didn’t really bother us as it was so ideally located for walking everywhere. Once we’d arrived, we didn’t use the car again until the day we left!

Despite visiting Keswick on many occasions, we’d never actually been to Fitz Park which was opposite. Can’t believe we’ve missed out on it as it’s lovely!

We wanted to attempt a couple of the climbs but decided to start easy by climbing a hill called Castlehead with some lovely views across Derwent Water although do excuse the weird extra half-dog situation in the panoramic pic in the middle. Ella decided to move while I was taking the pano!

Opposite the holiday cottage is a bus stop inside of which is the most wonderful painting of Goldilocks and the three bears along with an explanation of why it’s there. Apparently the story started off with three bears and a grumpy elderly woman but it evolved into the story with the young girl we’re more familiar with these days.

On Easter Sunday, I met the amazing artist Lucy Pittaway for breakfast. I love her paintings (and have several prints) and she loves my books and it’s so fascinating to talk to another creative who does something slightly different to me. She’s become a friend over the past year and happened to be visiting Keswick over the bank holiday, where she has one of her galleries, so it was wonderful being able to have a catch-up.

Before I met her, I’d noticed there were a stack of dog walkers milling around all wearing orange clothes and I wondered if there was a special event on. When I pointed this out to Lucy, she observed that a huge number of the dogs were spaniels. At lunchtime, when I went for a family walk round Derwent Water, I found out what was going on. There was the most amazing spaniel known as ‘Miracle Max’ who was awarded the equivalent of an OBE for animals in 2021 for his services to others. It’s quite a lovely story and you can find out about about Max, his owner Kerry, and why he was awarded this in a BBC article here.

Sadly, Max passed away this month, aged 14, so the walk was in remembrance of him. His collar had been orange so those doing the walk were asked if they’d wear orange. What a happy and hopeful colour to see everywhere.

One of Max’s many amazing achievements had been during the pandemic where videos and photos of him, his owner, and two other spaniels called Paddy and Harry provided comfort around the world to those who were able to get out and about vicariously through them. You can find out more on the Max out in the Lake District website and there’s also a book about Miracle Max by owner Kerry Irving whose life Max saved.

Here’s the hubby and our (sprocker) spaniel Ella on Max’s statue in Hope Park near the water’s edge.

The clockwise walk round Derwent Water is one we did in August last year but we went a little further this time. The weather had picked up from the week before but it wasn’t quite bright blue skies, but was still nice for pics.

I’d have happily walked even further but, for some random reason, the munchkin hadn’t put on her proper walking boots and we hadn’t noticed she was only wearing trainers so she moaned about going further. She and I caught the small ferry back and hubby walked back the way we’d come with Ella.

On the Tuesday, we decided to take a walk anti-clockwise round Derwent Water and see how far we could get. We set off on foot from the holiday cottage and this meant a walk through town, along farm tracks, by the river and through a village called Portinscale before getting to the water’s edge. It was a beautiful walk and, as you can see, the sun had properly come out and brought some bright blue skies.

Isn’t that shoreline beautiful? We wandered a little further and came across a most enticing-looking place called the Lingholm Estate where Beatrix Potter used to holiday with her family so we decided to explore and partake in some refreshments. What a lovely place!

A woodland walk took us to the foot of Catbells. We want to get fitter and be able to tick off the 214 Wainwrights – the hills/mountains/fells documented by Alfred Wainwright – over many visits to the Lakes and we’d hoped to tackle a couple of smaller ones while away. Catbells isn’t one of the smaller ones but we hadn’t appreciated our walk round the lake was going to take us to the foot of it. It seemed a shame not to give it a try while we were there. The munchkin was not impressed but we set off anyway.

The sign says 1 mile, 1 hour but that’s probably for experienced walkers and not for overweight unfit authors! At 451m (1,480ft) it’s quite a climb and very steep in parts. It was too much for the munchkin and she dipped out at a large grassy area partway up the first incline to be collected again on our descent. Hubby, Ella and I continued our climb.

It was hard work – more on the muscles than the stamina – but the views were absolutely incredible… and also a good reason to keep stopping! The view below is looking down on the Lingholm Estate where we’d stopped earlier.

This view looks out over Bassenthwaite Lake in the distance…

Catbells is a bit of a deceptive walk for those who aren’t familiar with the shape of it as you make your way towards what looks to be a summit and there’s quite a scramble to get up to it. However, once you’re there, you can see you’re not really there. The actual summit is some way further on, down a dip, then up again with an even steeper incline and summit.

We made it to the top of that 1st summit and I was so proud of myself as I’ve been in a home-based sedentary job for seven years, I barely left the house during the first 18 months of the pandemic, even when we were allowed, I am twice the body weight I should be for my height, and I’m not very fit anymore. So to climb up that far was a pretty amazing achievement for me and I felt quite emotional at the top.

We could have gone on but we had concerns. The weather was coming in and rain was expected. You can see the dark clouds in that last photo above. Hubby had left his coat with the munchkin to ensure she didn’t get cold while waiting for us but the weather had changed and it was cold up there. I’d given him my waterproof to keep the wind off him but that meant I’d have no waterproof when the rain started. We were conscious of the munchkin waiting for us in the rain and that we’d probably be another hour to get to the proper summit on top of the time we’d already been, plus the descent time. And I had no walking poles with me because this had been a spontaneous climb. I wasn’t sure my knees would cope with another scramble and the descent down both without the support of the poles so we gave up and said we’d return and conquer it again on another visit. And, yes, it did start raining as we descended.

We returned to the holiday cottage the way we’d come and, as this meant passing the Lingholm Estate, we popped in for more sustenance! They run alpaca walks and the alpacas were being fed as we passed. Aww! Next time, I neeeeeed to walk by the lake with an alpaca.

Walking back across the farm tracks, there were the most gorgeous Herdwick sheep watching us. I love them so much. Even though we hadn’t conquered Catbells, we’d done a pretty impressive walk because setting off from the holiday cottage meant a round trip of roughly ten miles. Well done us!

The following day was the penultimate full day of our holiday and, after aching from our walk, we had a more leisurely day visiting the Pencil Museum which is fascinating and the Keswick Local Museum in Fitz Park as well as a wander round some gift shops.

On our final day, we were determined to conquer our first Wainwright and set off for one of the smaller ones at the other side of Fitz Park – Latrigg. This is 368m (1,207ft) but also a gentler climb. In the first photo below, you can see it peaking behind Fitz Park.

It was another gorgeous day and it turned out that the first part of the walk up through the forest was actually the steepest. After that, the path zig-zagged quite a bit. We could see people taking steeper shortcuts but the proper pathway was good for us!

As anticipated, the views from the summit were absolutely stunning but it was certainly chilly up there despite the blue sky!

So that’s our very first Wainwright ticked off and logged in the book. 213 to go!

What an amazing second week and overall a brilliant fortnight away. Hubby and I both needed to work so we weren’t out and about all the time but we certainly managed to fit a lot in. And I got my inspiration for my Lakes series of books. I’m not going to say what it is yet as I’m waiting for my proposal to be approved by my editor but if she does give it the green light, I absolutely can’t wait to write it.

Already planning our return trip to this beautiful part of the world.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where we had a gorgeous Easter in the Lake District – Part 1

I’m writing my seventeenth novel at the moment (eek! how did that happen?!) and all the books I’ve written so far are set in one of two places: the fictional North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitsborough Bay or Hedgehog Hollow, a fictional hedgehog rescue centre in the Yorkshire Wolds countryside.

Last year, conscious that the Hedgehog Hollow series would reach a natural end point, I spoke to my publisher about adding a third location to my repertoire. I have the coast and the countryside already and I wanted to add lakes and mountains by setting a series in the stunning Lake District National Park. I was delighted when they said yes.

I love the Lakes and have been a regular visitor since childhood. My parents have been longstanding caravaners and would often take the caravan across to the Lakes – usually the southern ones. In my teens, they bought into a timeshare on the shores of Lake Windermere for a week in early February and, when education then work allowed, I sometimes stayed there. In the August before going away to university, my best friend, older brother and some of his friends went camping there and it holds so many fond memories. We won’t talk about the disastrous camping trip with an ex-boyfriend where it rained constantly, we piled the soggy tent into the back of the car and left early, our relationship ending not long afterwards. Not such fond memories!

Anyway, having secured the Lakes as a future setting for my books, I needed to do some research and we booked a week’s holiday near Thirlmere last August which was amazing. You can read about it and see the photos here.

I also booked for us to have a working/research holiday over this Easter. We spent the first week staying in Bowness by Lake Windermere and the second week in our absolute favourite place: Keswick.

As I have lots of photos, I’m going to divide them across two blog posts and this post is therefore all about our first week in Bowness.

We wanted to be central so that, if hubby and I were working, our daughter (15 and a half) could wander into town on her own from the cottage to explore her favourite store, Neon Sheep. Sadly, Neon Sheep – a gifting store set up by the owners of Mountain Warehouse – has ceased trading so that fettled that!

I found a holiday cottage called ‘Jessica’s Cottage’ so absolutely had to book it. A sign! It felt like it was calling to me. I had hoped to get a photo of me pointing to the cottage name but it only appeared on the gate and was very worn which was disappointing.

The cottage itself had the potential to be lovely but was a bit dated and unloved inside and we had a few problems with a blocked sink, toilet cistern not working consistently and a leaking boiler which put a bit of a dampener on things (literally). The sink and toilet did get sorted fairly quickly but the boiler needed a part and we had to put up with the leak all holiday which wasn’t ideal and I’m waiting to hear back about a partial refund. But this isn’t a moaning post so let’s move onto some photos…

At the end of a row of cottages at the top of a very steep hill, Jessica’s Cottage didn’t have a lake view but we could see Windermere at the other end of the row where it joined the road and I was excited to see a hedgehog crossing area sign on the way down the hill although I didn’t see any hedgehogs while we were there.

Behind the cottages were steep fields and we were able to join a walk up to Brant Fell where there are stunning views over the lake and surrounding countryside. This is the field behind us although our holiday cottage is hidden behind the right one of the pair of trees in the middle of the pic.

Hubby and I had a weekend in the Lakes on our 10th wedding anniversary seven years ago and we discovered Brant Fell then via a slightly different route so it was lovely to go up and see those views again. Shame the weather wasn’t better. As you can see from all my photos from week one, it was very, very dull and grey so the pictures don’t show the Lakes at their absolute best. When there’s a bit of sun and blue sky, they are breathtaking.

The following day I’d arranged to meet up with my fabulous author friend Helen Phifer (do check out her amazing crime books set in the Lake District here). She lives in Cumbria so drove across to Bowness for a scone and coffee. We’d also met up when I was in the area last August and we forgot to take a photo. Guess what? We forgot to take one again this time! Too busy chatting. It was lovely to catch up with her, though, although we couldn’t have done without the torrential downpour that started while we were out and didn’t let up for the rest of the day.

I booked the family in for a visit to Hill Top on the Monday which was one of Beatrix Potter’s farms and is run by the National Trust who have kept the house very much as Potter had it. We’ve visited before but I hadn’t imagined Hedgehog Hollow back then so was keen to return and couldn’t resist wearing my latest Popsy Clothing Helena hedgehog dress and taking my daughter’s childhood Mrs Tiggywinkle with me (much to her mortification) to get some hedgehog-themed pics.

That day we also visited Tarn Hows which is one of my favourite places for a short circular walk round the water. Last time we visited, the munchkin was only little – maybe five or so – and it was a sweltering hot day. It was a slight contrast this time although at least it didn’t rain.

The absolute highlight of our walk was a little incident with a Belted Galloway. There were several notices explaining that this breed of cow was grazing, like this one. Another larger sign had said they were very docile.

We hadn’t made it very far round the tarn when we came across several of the cows munching on the grass and a couple of them on the path. Ella, our sprocker spaniel, was on her lead and we gave them a wide birth and took a couple of photos.

But one of the cows which had been on the path – this one right here…

… clearly didn’t like posing for photos. As the hubby crouched down to get his camera out his backpack, the cow got closer and closer. ‘Cow!’ the daughter and I repeatedly said, perhaps a little unhelpfully. Next moment, the cow gave hubby an almighty shove on the elbow. He dropped his (expensive) camera, whacked himself in the jaw with his shoulder, and nearly toppled over. We shouldn’t laugh, but….!

The daughter moved well away with Ella and that seemed to placate the cow who left the hubby alone and joined its mates for a munch. No cows were hurt in this incident and thankfully no cameras were either although hubby’s jaw was painful for a couple of days afterwards!

We moved on to Hawkshead next where we had the most enormous ice creams. Mmm. Or rather the daughter and I did as hubby wasn’t too fussed. It was only a two-scooper but it was actually a bit too much for me. Definitely not a ‘little’ ice cream! Nice, though.

The day finished with a wander along the Lake Windermere in Bowness where I found ‘my’ boat.

Our destination for later in the week was Ambleside. We caught the ferry from Bowness and, once again, it was a cool and dull day. I had to take the photo that everyone who visits Ambleside takes of the little house on the bridge. If you’d like to know about the history of Bridge House, you can read about it here.

Our week in Bowness was rounded off with a trip to Brockhole which is just outside Windermere. We’ve visited several times and it’s a great place for families as there are stacks of activities but do book online in advance or you may be disappointed. We’d pre-booked for the daughter to go go-carting and decided to add her into archery on arrival but the only slots available were the very end of the day when we’d have been long-gone. The high ropes course is very popular but it’s huge so can take a lot of visitors at once although, again, I’d still book ahead.

If you don’t want to pay for activities (although you will need to pay to park), there’s a huge playground and the grounds are lovely for walking around.

Ooh, and they do the most amazing hot chocolates in the cafe! Nom nom nom. I will point out that they weren’t both for me!

We were ready to move onto Keswick, especially after the boiler problems, but couldn’t get into our second holiday cottage until teatime so we took a trip via Kendal on Good Friday which was fairly deserted, and then stopped at Thirlmere for a walk down to the water’s edge. The sun even made a very brief appearance, although the sky remained grey.

Did I end the week with some inspiration for my Lakes series? Sadly, no, but that – like the weather – was all about to change when we moved to Keswick. I’ll be back before the end of the week with my second post.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

An amazing holiday in the stunning Lake District

We’ve been back from our holiday for exactly a week now and it already seems like a distant memory. Although the suitcases on the landing waiting to go back into the attic and the pile of walking trousers/thick socks/breathable T-shirts I’d bought for the trip and don’t have a home for in my wardrobes do keep reminding me it wasn’t that long ago.

The Lake District is one of my favourite places in the UK. I remember family caravanning holidays as a child, paddling in the lakes in flip flops or wellies, and visiting the gorgeous towns and villages around the national park. As an adult, I’ve visited many times.

I often dreamed of living there and, in my late 20s, I actually had an interview to be a trainer at an outdoor activity centre on the shores of Lake Windermere. I was gutted when I didn’t get the job. I’m a firm believer in everything happening for a reason and there were other plans in place for me. If I’d got the job there, I’d probably never have become an author.

My husband and I have visited many times with our daughter and we also went on our own for a weekend to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary in 2015 so we have many fond memories. Usually, we stick to the towns but this time we were determined to get walking. After 18 months of hibernating thanks to a certain pandemic, even the low fells were perhaps a bit ambitious but there was nothing to stop us walking round the lakes and what a treat that turned out to be.

Our holiday cottage was a gorgeous building in a small hamlet on the southern tip of Thirlmere which is a reservoir serving Manchester. We couldn’t see the water from the cottage because of the woods but it was very close by. The views out of the lounge window were stunning.

DAY 1 – GRASMERE & RYDAL WATER

The weather was stunning for our first full day so we had a wander round the pretty village of Grasmere then set off towards the lake. It’s quite a walk from the village to get to the edge of the lake but it’s absolutely worth it. At every turn, there was a new photo to take.

I’m proud to say that all of these are mine taken on my phone and the only one my talented photographer husband took is the bottom one in this batch.

We continued from the northern part of Grasmere towards Rydal Water where we’d heard there were some caves in hills which we’d never visited before. It was a bit people-y around the cave but I was keen to have a go crossing the stepping stones, praying I wouldn’t be the one person who went splat in the water. (Thanks to hubby for the batch of pics below):

It was worth making the crossing as the cave was fabulous although I was too embarrassed on my own to do what I normally would – a deep ‘mwah ha ha ha ha!’

Outside the view was gorgeous and there were loads of amazing stacks of stones. We were pretty hot at this point so didn’t stop to create our own.

We’d covered a lot of miles in the heat by this point and stupidly weren’t prepared as we hadn’t packed any lunch or brought enough water with us. Thankfully, the pathway at the northern tip of Rydal Water opened out onto the road immediately opposite The Badger Bar so that was us sorted for lunch and drinks. It didn’t take much (any) persuading to get the bus back to Grasmere instead of walking!

From there we drove onto Ambleside for something a little more leisurely – a game of crazy golf. Hubby sat on a bench with Ella (the dog) while the munchkin and I played a round. She would claim she won, but she cheats!!!

DAY 2 – FERRY TRIP TO BOWNESS-ON-WINDERMERE

We decided to take a catch the big steam ferry from Ambleside to Windermere on the Sunday which, with hindsight, was a bit of a mistake because Bowness on a bank holiday weekend was crazy busy. I’ve seen it busy many times but this was something else. It was so calm before we boarded the ferry, and the boat itself was fairly empty but we disembarked in Bowness and there was a sea of people everywhere and a wall of noise. Eek!

It was a grey day but still really warm (although a bit chilly on the ferry itself). We had lunch followed by a wander round a lovely market and the town, but we were keen to get back on the ferry and return to some peace and quiet (and an ice cream) in Ambleside.

DAY 3 – BUTTERMERE

Bank Holiday Monday was another grey day but there was no rain forecast so we decided to drive up to Buttermere. We’d heard it was a lovely walk around it. At 4.5 miles, that seemed do-able. And we were prepared with a packed lunch this time!

The sat nav directed us on the terrifying route via Honister Pass or, as the munchkin kept calling it, Hoisin Pass. OMG! If you’ve not done it, it takes you high – very high – past a slate mine with sheer drops and extremely narrow roads. My knuckles were white as I clung onto the door handle! (I will point out that hubby was driving!)

The photo opportunities were very different from our previous lake walk and I even turned on the black and white filter (get me using the tech!) to catch some moody shots!

The walk was lovely and I certainly brightened up a dull day in my red fleece!

We had a lovely treat on the route back up the other side with a few cows lying down by the side of the footpath, taking it all in. Aren’t they gorgeous? And there was an amazing waterfall too which hubby scrambled up to it while the munchkin and I had a little rest. The single cow and waterfall pic are courtesy of hubby.


DAY 4 – LAKESIDE, HAWKSHEAD & BROCKHOLE

It was publication day for me for Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café but we had no WiFi at the cottage so I drove out to a lay-by near Grasmere first thing to pick up 4G and do some sharing of social media posts! After that, we all headed down to Lakeside at the southern tip of Lake Windermere and hubby and munchkin took Ella for a walk while I met my fellow Write Romantic and fabulously talented crime writer Helen Phifer. Helen lives in Cumbria so it was such a great opportunity to catch up with her. We were so busy chatting, we completely forgot to take a photo. Oops!

The family and I then headed up to Hawkshead which is one of my favourite villages and had a wander round and a delicious publication day lunch outside a pub called The King’s Arms.

Although we’ve visited HillTop before, I thought it would be fitting to visit Beatrix Potter’s former home on the day one of my books was released but they were taking bookings only which had never even crossed our mind so that was a no-go.

We caught the car ferry from Hawkshead and headed to Brockhole on the shores of Windermere instead. The munchkin had a freezing cold paddle with Ella (as you might be able to tell from her facial expression on the first pic) and a go-cart ride so she was a happy bunny.

DAY 5 – THIRLMERE

Our plans to do the walk around Derwentwater were a bit scuppered today when munchkin woke up complaining of stomach ache and feeling sick. We stayed at the cottage for the morning hoping it might wear off but she was sick and definitely couldn’t go out and about.

I read and hubby went off for a walk with the dog but I was going a bit stir crazy after lunch so, with munchkin being at an age she can be left alone, we left her sleeping and walked to Thirlmere.

The reservoir was very low after a lengthy dry season and we came close to a stuck-in-the-mud disaster, fooled by the crusty surface! (Top 3 pics are hubby’s).


DAY 6 – KESWICK & DERWENTWATER

It had obviously just been a 24-hour bug as the munchkin woke up feeling much better and, although we decided it would be pushing it to walk the full perimeter of Derwentwater as planned, we reckoned she could manage partway.

We’ve always loved the walk past the theatre and down to the lake shore but have never done the walk round the lake and we can’t believe what we’ve been missing out on because it is stunning. It helped that we had the same gorgeous weather from the start of the week. Just like our walk round Grasmere, there was a photo opportunity with every few paces.

We were so sad to have to say goodbye to our cottage and head back home. We all agreed that, even with the munchkin being ill one day, it was the best UK holiday we’d ever had. I think that was for a combination of reasons – the gorgeous weather, the stunning scenery, properly switching off from work (no WiFi certainly helped) and a break for the first time in nearly two years. Perfect.

I can’t wait to start writing my new series set in the Lake District which does, of course, mean lots more trips there are needed. No hardship whatsoever!

I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at the pictures. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve been to any of these places or you have recommendations for others. Our holiday cottage was gorgeous but it had a few shall we say ‘interesting’ decorative touches. I leave you with the fish vase, the squirrel bin (which weighed a ton), the frankly terrifying ‘Catbells’ artwork (Catbells being a famous fell overlooking Derwentwater which features in the top photos on the above section), the scary rabbit dish thing and the disproportionate squirrel acorn situation.

Big hugs
Jessica xx